Patriot games: good, bad, ugly

MIKE LITTWIN

February 28, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

The news is that Malcolm Glazer, with his oft-discussed checkbook in hand, is apparently negotiating to purchase the New England Patriots.

You want to know how big that news is? Worst-case scenario: If the Glazers buy the Patriots, Baltimore could be, not to put too ugly a face on it, dead in the water as far as NFL expansion is concerned.

Yeah, that big.

That's not the only scenario, of course. In fact, because the Glazers haven't returned any phone calls, we can't even begin to guess all the scenarios, but -- there is this -- a few of them could actually have a positive spin for Baltimore.

Here are some possibilities:

* Glazer buys the team and leaves it in New England, thus abandoning Baltimore. That would leave two groups competing for the right to own a Baltimore expansion team, and neither may be acceptable to the NFL.

* Glazer buys the Patriots and, given the general untenability of the stadium in Foxboro, Mass., moves the team to a new and ultra-tenable stadium in Baltimore.

* Glazer buys the Patriots, with the proviso that he will give the Massachusetts taxpayers a prescribed number of years -- let's say three -- to come up with a new stadium or else he will move the team somewhere. Somewhere could be here.

* Glazer tries to buy the Patriots, but doesn't get the team, leaving him in the Baltimore expansion hunt.

* And, perhaps most disturbing, the Glazers, who once said they had no interest in the Patriots, have changed their minds because they've been told either that Baltimore is not going to get an expansion team or, more likely, that the NFL doesn't intend to expand next fall after all.

Let's look at these scenarios one by one.

1. How important this news might turn out to be could depend on Boogie Weinglass, or rather how the NFL views Weinglass. If NFL owners consider Weinglass simply another rich businessman with a viable ownership group, then a possible Glazer departure might not matter at all. If, however, they look at Weinglass as the Boogie of movie fame and can't see past his jeans and ponytail, it could mean Baltimore has no viable ownership group. I mean, you don't really think Tom Clancy has the money, do you?

2. The Patriots are in such bad shape that the NFL is discussing the possibility of taking over the team until an owner can be found. The Patriots' position moved to crisis stage when majority owner Victor Kiam was unable to meet a buyout provision worth a reported $38 million to minority owner Fran Murray, who is a leader in St. Louis' effort to get an expansion team. No possible buyer has come forth, until the Glazers.

Obviously, the NFL does not want to abandon New England. Boston is the No. 6 TV market and the largest market owned exclusively by the AFC and, its partner, NBC-TV. But if the Glazers were to insist that if they couldn't move the team to Baltimore they wouldn't buy it at all, would the NFL stand in the way? Clearly, the owners can't want to take the drastic step of buying the team themselves. If those were the two choices -- a league-owned team in Foxboro or a Glazer-owned Patriots in Baltimore -- which way would they go?

3. A reasonable compromise is at hand: The Glazers buy the team, saying they will wait X years for a stadium after which, if none is forthcoming, they are free to move. It's not so reasonable for Baltimore, however. First of all, Baltimore would be in limbo. Secondly, there's no guarantee that if the team did move, it would move here. What's clear is that nobody is going to want to buy the Patriots and keep them in out-of-the-way Foxboro, where the stadium is also sky-box poor.

4. If the Glazers don't get the Patriots, they still may have established themselves as players in the NFL game and could enhance their position and, therefore, Baltimore's in the expansion race.

5. What expansion race? This is where it gets scary. Why are the Glazers suddenly interested? They can't like the situation at Foxboro any better than the other 250 million Americans and countless Japanese who haven't rushed forward to buy the Patriots. Have they somehow surmised that Baltimore is a hopeless third in a race that has two winners? Or have the Glazers concluded that the reluctant NFL will not expand, once again falling back on the excuse of failing to resolve their contract dispute with the players? There are many who believe the NFL will once again flip-flop on this issue. Or is this simply a matter of the Glazers' relying on that axiom: A team in the hand, etc.?

The answer, finally, may well be none of the above. We'll have to wait for this to play out as one more agonizing step in what will almost certainly continue to be an agonizing process.

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